ACT has been partnering with the Campus Links program since 2018, providing art activities to students on Grand Valley State University's campus. Since the current pandemic inspired ACT and GVSU to create a path for virtual participation, ACT staff has worked to keep classes engaging and continues to provide a fun learning environment for participating students.
Campus Links is a program for undergraduate students on the Autism Spectrum at GVSU. Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder are paired with a supportive peer mentor who they meet with on a weekly basis. The program is separated into a red and blue group. Those in the red group have mentors who live on the same floor as them in campus housing. The blue group participants live in different locations either on campus, off campus, or at home. The group meets together on Wednesday nights for an activity to practice social and learning skills with the support of their mentor.
GVSU graduate assistant Isabel Berkson spends a portion of her time focused on working with, and coordinating activities for, the Campus Links program and students. Berkson said:
"ACT fulfills a unique need by providing a fun and different activity that students are always excited to participate in. By having artists come in and teach their specialty, whether it is Origami, Improv, Watercolor, and more, our mentors and mentees always look forward to having ACT come to our Wednesday night meetings...ACT is unique because they offer a variety of artistic activities that students may not be able to find anywhere else."
Once a month, a rotating ACT Teaching Artist leads a visual or performing art class for students in the program and their mentors. Usually, ACT's Program Director Shay Kraley and the Teaching Artist bring supplies for students to use, but COVID-19 and virtual learning has presented a challenge when it comes to offering art supplies to students. For example, in the class focused on Origami, students used any piece of paper found in their house. Thankfully, these efforts have ensured the art classes are still accessible to students.
"Shay and the artists have found creative ways for the students to be able to participate even if they do not have all of the supplies at home. I am very happy that we have been able to continue having ACT come to our Campus Links meeting, because it has always been a great experience for our students," Berkson said.